With new funds and plans, Meals on Wheels is on a roll

Shannon Draayer, WesleyLife’s director of health and community well-being, recently walked through the new Meals on Wheels site that is underway on University Avenue, in a building that once housed Drake University’s School of Education.

By Steve Dinnen

Serious cooks yearn for serious kitchens. They come in handy when you make 2,000 meals per day, which is the average output for WesleyLife’s local Meals on Wheels program.

On Nov. 1, the nonprofit’s leaders will cut the ribbon on a serious new kitchen that’s three times the size of its current cramped setup in Sherman Hill, which doesn’t have a garbage disposal or even a dishwashing machine.

Community philanthropist Suzie Glazer Burt got the ball rolling for Meals on Wheels with a $1.05 million donation to its “So Much More Than Meals” capital campaign. That money helped WesleyLife buy a building at 3206 University Ave. that has been overhauled to house the spacious new kitchen. In gratitude, it’s named Suzie’s Kitchen.

In total, the campaign has raised more than $11 million, thanks to additional donations from Tom and Linda Koehn, Steve and Cathy Lacy, and Nixon and Virginia Lauridsen, among others.

Meals are available to anyone older than 60 and military veterans of all ages and are designed to help people who have difficulty shopping for food or preparing meals. Each meal costs $8.70, but that price may be reduced or eliminated depending on the client’s financial situation. Meals are delivered seven days a week to private homes as well as 15 sites for groups.

For many recipients, their Meals on Wheels driver is the only person they see during the entire day or even the week. Drivers are trained to check on clients’ well-being, which can make a big difference. Sophia Ahmad, WesleyLife’s vice president for philanthropy, said the WesleyLife team estimates that the daily visits save three to seven lives each year.

With its new kitchen, Meals on Wheels is living up to the name of the “So Much More Than Meals” campaign. The staff now includes an agronomist who will manage a hydroponic garden for fresh produce. And next spring, the site will open Hugo, an eatery run by Des Moines restaurateur Lynn Pritchard, and a space for special events, with seating for up to 100 guests.

Volunteers wanted for Meals on Wheels and Hope Ministries

Financial donors are usually in short supply at charitable organizations. Volunteers are even scarcer.
Meals on Wheels is one group that relies heavily on volunteers — specifically, drivers. The program relies on volunteers to distribute 2,000 meals around town every day.

About half of Meals on Wheels recipients live in their own homes. They’re often older and alone, and many don’t venture out very often. For many recipients, the delivery Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person they see during the day or even the entire week. Drivers are trained to check on clients’ well-being, which can make a big difference. Sophia Ahmad, WesleyLife’s vice president for philanthropy, said WesleyLife estimates the daily visits save three to seven lives each year.

So ring them up if you’d like to help: 515-699-3243. They’ll put you to work.

Speaking of volunteers … Hope Ministries is looking for folks to help assemble and deliver meals to 3,500 people for Thanksgiving. Its food donation day is Wednesday, Nov. 22, and volunteers are needed then. Then drivers will be needed on Thanksgiving Day to distribute all of that food to people in a timely fashion.

Volunteer registration for Hope Ministries is open now at hopeiowa.org.

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